- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Pharmaceutical companies battered by civil lawsuits over their alleged role in the U.S. addiction crisis are facing a potential criminal investigation.

Federal prosecutors have begun sending subpoenas to key players in the opioid industry to figure out if companies intentionally let painkillers deluge communities, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Members of Congress and state leaders say the unchecked tide of pills got legions hooked before they turned to cheaper, illicit alternatives such as heroin and fentanyl.

Roughly 70,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2017, and about two-thirds of those deaths were tied to opioids.

The Journal reported that prosecutors in New York City’s Brooklyn borough dispatched subpoenas to companies including Teva, McKesson, Mallinckrodt, AmerisourceBergen, Johnson & Johnson and Amneal.

The Washington Times has reached out to each of the companies for comment. AmeriSource Bergen responded by saying it has “nothing to add,” while Teva noted it disclosed the subpoena in its public securities filing for the third quarter.

“As noted in that filing, Teva is cooperating with the subpoena,” said Teva spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty. “We are confident in our order monitoring practices and policies, which are designed to ensure that medicines are delivered appropriately and in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations.”

Johnson & Johnson, in its own quarterly filing, also said the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York issued a grand jury subpoena in August for “documents related to the Company’s anti-diversion policies and procedures and distribution of its opioid medications, in what the company understands to be part of a broader investigation into manufacturers’ and distributors’ monitoring programs and reporting under the Controlled Substances Act.”

Likewise, Mallinckrodt disclosed its receipt of a subpoena in a filing on May 7. The company said it was responding to the subpoena and any other requests for documents.

If criminal charges are pursued, it would be a dramatic escalation in the federal fight against opioid addiction.

Hundreds of cities, counties and states have sued opioid makers and distributors, resulting in talks over a potential resolution that could resemble the Big Tobacco settlement of the late 1990s.

President Trump has made the opioids fight a signature issue, even declaring it a public health emergency in 2017.

His administration says the trendlines are improving but there is more work to be done, particularly in thwarting the flow of fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid, from China.

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